UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wa – Jordan Spieth, the biggest golf story of the year, won the 115th U.S. Open Sunday only after the second biggest story – the much-maligned Chambers Bay greens – failed Dustin Johnson.
Spieth shot a 1-under-par 69, with a birdie on 18, and held a one-shot lead over Johnson one group behind. Johnson hit his approach shot on the par-5, 604-yard 18th to within 12 feet from the hole. He missed his eagle that would have won the tournament. He then missed a comeback four-footer that would have forced a Monday playoff.
“It’s hard right now. It’s hard,” Spieth said immediately after his sudden victory gift. “I’m still amazed that I won, let alone that we weren’t playing (Monday). So for that turnaround right there, to watch that happen, I feel for Dustin, but I haven’t been able to put anything in perspective yet.”
Spieth, 21, who won the Masters in April, joins some elite company, players who have won the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. The others were: Tiger Woods (2002), Jack Nicklaus (1972), Arnold Palmer (1960), Ben Hogan (1951 and 1953) and Craig Wood (1941).
No one has ever won the ‘modern’ Grand Slam in the same year. The Open Championship is July 16-19 at St. Andrews Old Course.
He is the youngest to win two majors since Gene Sarazen in 1922 and youngest to win the Open since Bobby Jones in 1923.
It’s not as though Spieth didn’t earned his victory. He made a dramatic 25-foot putt on 16 for what seemed to be the clinched as it gave him a 3-stroke lead at the time. He then double-bogeyed the par-3 17th while Johnson birdied 16, drawing the two back within one.
Then on 18 – a hole in which Spieth called on Friday when it was switched for one round to a 525-yard, par-4 “the dumbest hole I’ve ever played” – he hit an exquisite drive down the middle, avoiding bunkers on both sides. His approach rolled along the back perimeter, carefully avoiding the thick rough, then toward the hole, resting about 20 feet away for an eagle opportunity. He missed that putt but birdied the hole to give him his one-stroke edge.
“It (drive) got right up there on the up-slope, I couldn’t have placed it in a better spot,” said Spieth. “The next 3-wood, very, very pure. Any little bit of breeze up there held it up. How undeserving maybe after I played 17, that break was on 18, for it to funnel down and then to stay up by a foot on that ledge, I just wanted to get a good putt.”
“When I finished I was just hoping to be playing (Monday).”
Johnson, the third round co-leader, shot even par and finished in a tie for second with Louie Oosthuizen, who scorched the back nine with a 29. It was the lowest score for nine holes in the history – 114 previous tournaments – of the U.S. Open and burned-out greens that were panned by most of the competitors.
Johnson, who left the campus soon after signing his scorecard, said, “on the last green, just talking to my brother (caddie Austin Johnson), this is exactly why I’m here. This is why I play the game of golf. I’ve got a chance to win the U.S. Open on the last hole.”
South African Branden Grace, who started the day with Spieth one behind the leaders, finished in the three-way tie for fourth at 3-under.
He tied with Cameron Smith and Adam Scott, who had the best round of the tournament at 6-under 64.
“I’d love to come back and play 18 holes tomorrow and have another shot at it,’ Scott said. “I feel like I had nothing to lose today and everything to gain. And I knew I was playing well and I just couldn’t quite put it all together the first three days.”
Jason Day, who started the day tied for the lead with Johnson, needed a brave effort just to play. He fell down on his final hole Friday and laid there for 10 minutes. He was later diagnosed with “Benign Positional Vertigo,” yet he played well over his final two rounds.
His caddy, Colin Swatton said his 68 on Saturday was “one of the greatest rounds I’ve ever seen.”
Day stayed with the leaders through the turn but double-bogeyed 13 to take him to 4-over on the day – five strokes behind at the time. His battle with the greens and his health issues left him in a tie for 9th at even-par.
Charl Schwartzel rose through the pack to shoot 4-under 66. He finished at 2-under, alone in seventh.
“The golf course, the more I’ve played it, the more you get used to it,” said the South African Schwartzel. “You get used to a little more the slopes. But I feel like for a U.S. Open, the greens are not up to standard. I think they’re pretty terrible.”
Brandt Snedeker, one the the few pros who openly raved about the course for its design and possibilities, also had a solid final-round run until a final fade. At the turn he was 3-under for the day, 2-under for the tournament but he double-bogeyed 14 and dropped out of contention. He finished at 1-under.
Rory McIlroy put on a back-nine charge reminiscent of the old days when Arnie and Jack invoked cheers through the galleries. He put back-to-back birdies together on 12 and 13 to go 2-under. Then he missed a short birdie putt on 14 and his momentum stalled.
McIlroy bogeyed 15 to drop to 1-under and his dream of a fifth major was over. He finished at 4-under, even for the tournament.
“The missed putt on 15, for the first bogey of the day, that hurt,” McIlroy said. “And not to birdie 16 from where I put it off the tee. And then again a three-putt on 17. When I look back, obviously the last few holes of this golf course haven’t been kind to me all week.
“And when I look back at this tournament that’s where I’ll rue some missed opportunities. I feel like it’s sort of one that got away, especially the way I putted this week. I don’t think I’ve ever hit the ball as well in a major championship. I’ve got to say, if they come back here in about 20 years time I’d be all right with that.”
Billy Horschel, the 2014 Tour Championship winner, had one of the best early rounds at 3-under then roundly criticized the USGA afterward, saying he “lost respect.”
“It’s just been a disappointing week with the way the greens are,” said Horschel, who was wildly animated when he missed his putts. “We’re not looking for perfect greens. . .we’re looking for something that’s very consistent. And this week they’re not.”
Friday, Henrik Stenson said the greens were “like putting on broccoli. McIlroy added Saturday, “I don’t think they’re as green as broccoli. More like cauliflower.”
Spieth heard all the chatter about the course all week but generally refused to dive into the pity pool.
“There’s obviously noise around. There’s noise around every golf tournament about a pin position here or the greens are this or the layout,” Spieth said. “Someone has to win it. The quicker you realize that and don’t worry about it, the easier it is just to move on with your game and that’s what we try to do.”
Phil Mickelson started the tournament at 1-under 69, but shot 74, 77 and 73 to finish at 13-over in a tie for 64th place. He was seeking the only major he hasn’t won.